WESTERLY— Transformation of the food pantry at the Jonnycake Center of Westerly from a warehouse-type atmosphere to one resembling a small local market is intended to raise the spirits of those who use the facility, and also to conserve resources, officials with the social service agency said Wednesday.
Since its founding in 1975, the center’s food pantry has operated by having clients fill out a form telling staff members, in general terms, what food they needed for themselves and their families. The staff member then collected the items and gave them to the client. Under a new approach, which will begin Monday, clients will be free to make their own selections within the center’s normal limits.
“This model of food pantry invites clients into the pantry, turning this into a grocery store and allowing the client to shop themselves. This model has proven successful in both Rhode Island and nationally,” said Lee Eastbourne, executive director.
The new approach can counteract feelings of shame or embarrassment that a client might feel, and has also been shown to cut down on waste, Eastbourne said. Clients select exactly what they want and like. The staff will be available to assist them while they shop, and clients who prefer the old method can have staff members collect their items.
Qualified residents of Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond and Westerly can receive a one week’s supply of food for each member of their household every 30 days. They receive enough food for 21 meals per person — three meals per day for seven days. Food items include milk, eggs, cheese, meat, bread, assorted produce, and a variety of nonperishable groceries.
On Tuesday about 30 community members and the center’s staff gathered for a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the renovated pantry at the center on Industrial Drive. The center used an $85,000 grant from the Champlin Foundation to pay for the renovations. The wood floor was refinished, the room was repainted, and a walk-in refrigerator and freezer were installed. There’s new lighting and new shelving and racks, and a wall was installed to enclose the food pantry and improve energy efficiency.
The new refrigerator and freezer have a useful life of about 30 years; the older, stand-alone units lasted only about five years and were not energy efficient.
The center spends $150,000 per year on food, most of which is purchased from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Those items are supplemented with donations from private individuals. The center also receives food from the McQuade’s, Stop & Shop and Aldi grocery stores and buys milk from Rhody Fresh, a dairy farm cooperative.
About 2,700 unique individuals are served by the pantry each year. The center also reports distributing the equivalent of 205,000 meals per year from programs including the food pantry.
Town Council President Edward Morrone and Vice President William Aiello attended the ceremony.
“The more I learn about them the more impressed I am. Their contribution to the town and the region is incalculable,” Morrone said.
The ceremony was the culmination of years of work aimed at establishing a full client-choice pantry. The plan was initiated under the leadership of Liz Pasqualini, who served as the center’s executive director for seven years before leaving in June to pursue a master’s degree.
Nick Castagna, chairman of the center’s board, said, “I’m thrilled with the finished product. I never imagined getting this building looking this good...it’s the result of a lot of planning, hard work and help from the Champlin Foundation.”